Barnsley Youth Choir 2023 Review

2023 Review

                                                               Barnsley Youth Choir 2023 Review

1 January 2024

As we reflect on 2023 there is so much to be proud of and Barnsley Youth Choir continues develop and evolve through our ambitious approach and a relentless pursuit for excellence. This desire and sense of moral purpose to provide as many children and young people within our community with extraordinary, life-changing experiences is something that fuels our work. Young people learn about the joy of creating high quality music together, but also importance of discipline and rigour. Excellence and joy in everything we do is a mantra that we genuinely try to live by, and in doing so provide the young people we serve with exposure to the very best possible training and experiences, irrespective of their backgrounds. We make no apology about the high expectations we have and our drive to provide an equity of opportunity to children in our town. We know that all children have wonderful potential that can be realised if they are provided with the right investment, environment and support.

We took 80 members of the Senior Choir for a tour to Dublin in February 2023 and worked with the wonderful Dublin Youth Choir (European Champions in 2018) with rehearsals, workshops and performances at 1 Windmill Lane (of U2 fame) and at the iconic Trinity College Chapel in the most fabulous acoustics. It was great to be venturing overseas again after the challenges of the last few years. Aside from our usual concert series at Christmas and in the Spring, which were both highly successful, we also hosted some outstanding groups. In April we hosted the highest ranked Children s Choir in the world, the phenomenal Tygerberg Children s Choir from Cape Town, South Africa who took part in rehearsals, workshops and sell out concerts with us here in Barnsley. It was a real honour to have played an important and exciting role in the inaugural Interkultur Hull International Choir Competition featuring over 1000 outstanding singers from South Africa, Sweden, Finland, Turkey, Austria, Greece, Lithuania, Croatia and Ireland as well as choirs from across Great Britain. 200 children from BYC performed in a Gala Concert, led a 2-hour workshop with around 800 singers and took part in a fantastic closing ceremony - the atmosphere was electric! It was a moment where parents and friends recognised that BYC had every right to share the stage with these outstanding international musicians after our young people delivered some world-class performances.  

Barnsley Council received central government funding via the Levelling Up Fund after they supported BYC with a bid to develop the Northern Academy of Vocal Excellence (NAVE) here in Barnsley and a home for BYC. We have been working closely with the Council and the team who will realise this exciting vision and the next few months will be exciting ones as we anticipate an intense period working with architects and the design team to ensure that the building is realised by March 2025. Spearheaded by trustee Charlie Brammer, 30 young NAVE Ambassadors have been selected with a remit to be a conduit for all 9 choirs at BYC, ensuring that children remain at the heart of decision-making and consultation processes, with regular meetings and workshops scheduled. There is more fundraising to do for the NAVE and opportunities for partners and sponsors to play a role in realising a very special vision. It s a venue that could have an extraordinary impact on the choir and Barnsley, but also regionally and nationally, and we are indebted to so many in the council for sharing our level of ambition for young people in in this region and for providing such wonderful support.  

The vision for the NAVE is that it will develop a national and international profile for excellence as a training and development centre and engage with outstanding national and international partners.

We have raised vital funds through a Grand Raffle and a Singathon and have been fortunate to have had support from a variety of sponsors and patrons, most notably ASOS who became a sponsor this year and Barnsley College who provide extraordinary support to the choir and invest so much into the work that we do. We held an excellent Gala Dinner which was kindly sponsored by ASOS and hosted by Stephanie Hirst and Dan Jarvis MP. Aside from raising important funds, this was such an enjoyable evening that really showcased the talent of our young people. We d like to thank those that attended and supported and those that also donated auction and raffle prizes. Thank you also to those who have been kind enough to Sponsor a Child for the 2023-24 Season, either to support them with costs for the overseas tour, or to provide a financial bursary so that children and families facing hardship are supported.  

Penistone Grammar School generously continue to offer use of their building to support our work in the west of Barnsley and provide a home for Children s Choir West (Penistone) that has grown considerably to 71 members. We established 3 new Little Singers Groups (0-4) and a new Junior Choir in Penistone (4-7), taking the number of choirs we now run to 9 (or 16 if you count the separate Little Singers Groups). We now have 670 children and young people now on our registers with a further 45 booked in to join/audition in January 2024 at the time of writing this report. The new Little Singers groups and Junior Choir West based in Penistone have been a real success and the new Junior Choir West now has 56 members. We re indebted to Penistone Town Council and St. John s Community Centre for their support in providing us with a great rehearsal venue for these new groups.  

Our focus and investment in our younger choirs was always a long-term plan, but we are starting to see the fruits of this work due to the excellent work of teams in the 2 x Junior and 3 x Children s Choirs. Children are arriving at Intermediate and Senior Choir levels with improved technical skills fostered through the important work taking place with excellent teams, and by embracing principles of the Kodaly system. Eleanor Wright has worked incredibly hard to develop provision at Little Singers, Junior Choir and Children s Choir levels, and the legacy of her outstanding work is seen and heard in our current Senior Choir. Our music team remains strong, and we have appointed extra capacity in accompanists through the involvement of Natalie Davies and by welcoming back Emma McKenna; both are accomplished musicians and pianists who have had a real impact. Rosie Masters has joined Eleanor to lead 9 separate Little Singers groups (0-4 years old). All 16 members of the team work so hard to ensure that children and young people have the best possible musical experience.  

The MD team has delivered around 45 workshops to schools across Barnsley in 2022-23 and will deliver an additional 56 workshops in 2023-24 to over 5000 children, free of charge, to support singing in schools. Eleanor Wright and Luke Mather were appointed as Singing Champions and have created excellent resources for schools, as well as taking a lead in delivering this large volume of workshops. We ve had wonderful feedback from these sessions and about the resources that we ve provided schools with to support singing, and we are grateful to have developed close relationships and trust with many schools across Barnsley. The Senior Choir was privileged to take part in the Barnsley College Excellence Awards in June 2023 at the Metrodome Arena; a really special evening that recognised the achievements of outstanding students.  

In July we welcomed the Aurin Choir from the world-famous Kodaly School in Hungary for a series of rehearsals, workshops and concerts which were of a very high standard. The Aurin Choir also delivered 2 fabulous workshops to around 700 primary school children which we offered free of charge at Emmanuel Church. We were overwhelmed with the response and schools really appreciated an opportunity for their children to be able to listen to and work with this stellar international group and learn more about the Kodaly system.  

In August we took part in the Underneath the Stars Festival with Kate Rusby and showcased our wonderful Children s Choirs as well as some of our older leaders with a stunning performance in the main tent seen by over 2000 people. The feedback from social media and from organisers has been wonderful and quite moving to read. It s yet another example of the impact our children have on new audiences, and it was a joyous day. It was also really good of Kate Rusby to join the children on stage and sing with them too in the iconic  Big Brave Bill !  

BYC Children s Choir East took part in the Dearne Community Arts Festival in September, and there has been a huge investment in this choir to ensure that it continues to serve the community in the East of Barnsley in Goldthorpe and surrounding areas of the Dearne Valley. This is one of the most deprived areas of Barnsley and numbers fell to around 15 regular members in September 2024. It may have been easier to fold this section of the choir, but there was a clear direction given by Trustees and Leaders that it was essential that these children continued to have this opportunity in this area. A strategy was formed and an alliance with the Astrea Academy Trust was forged who have 4 Primary Schools in this area. Through workshops and meetings with schools and parents we are thrilled to now have 40 children now on the register with a further 5 set to join at the time of writing this report. We will continue this work to increase numbers in this area and ensure that this choir thrives and serves the community well. We re indebted to Charlie Brammer who has championed this work, and to Luke Mather who is really driving some excellent work in this area.  

Over 200 BYC Intermediate and Senior Choir members took part in the Proud of Barnsley Awards Ceremony in November, a really special and important event that took place in the Metrodome Arena with around 600 VIPs in attendance. At the event many people were recognised for their outstanding contribution to the community and there was a poignant moment when BYC Honorary Patron, Mel Dyke MBE, was remembered after passing away earlier in the year. Senior Choir members Tom Masters, Gorgey Bennett and Darcy Preston sang at her funeral, supported by Rob Cooper on piano in July in a moving and special ceremony that recognised Mel s significant contribution to Barnsley and to so many lives in this area. She is sorely missed.  

We invited our 160 Patrons to attend our special  Patron s Evening  in November where we offered a chance to see the work that takes place behind the scenes, and also talk and ask questions to leaders in the choir. It was a really lovely evening that was well attended. The choir took time to thank them for their wonderful support and they really appreciated a chance to listen to rehearsals and hear children sing. It was wonderful to welcome Robert Guy from Wales to a rehearsal too. Robert is a member of the Jury at the famous Eisteddfod in Llangollen, and is director of Ensembles at Manchester University as well as leading their highly acclaimed conducting programme.  

We continue to have an open door policy and it is wonderful to welcome such talented musicians to Barnsley, with the potential to work together in future projects.  

We welcomed Alastair Scobbie from the University of Pretoria, South Africa in December. Alastair is an excellent singer, conductor and Djembe drum player and had a huge impact with our choirs. He has worked as Assistant Conductor of Tuks Camerata (former World Champions) and as a music teacher throughout Pretoria. He led rehearsals and workshops with all 9 of our choirs, led CPD to teachers and musicians across South Yorkshire on African Drumming facilitated by the wonderful Barnsley Music Hub and also delivered drumming workshops to children in 6 Primary Schools alongside the excellent Keith Ramskill. He also played a key role in all 5 Christmas Concerts; conducting and singing with the Senior Choir and playing Djembe for other choirs.  

Our 2023 Christmas Concerts were a wonderful showcase for around 500 children and young people. We were thrilled to provide a warm welcome to sell out audiences for all 5 of our concerts, and an additional  Family Christmas  event that provided an opportunity for a further 80+ Little Singers aged 0   4 years old to take part in some festive fun. Tickets for all 5 concerts sold out in under 1 hour, and we had a long waiting list that we worked hard to accommodate when ticket returns came in. It s wonderful to see such a demand for tickets from parents and local people, but we are fortunate to have regional, national and international visitors regularly attending concerts too.  

VIPs such as Professor Dame Hilary Chapman DBE (Lord Lieutenant), Pete Massey from Arts Council England, MP Dan Jarvis MBE, MP Stephanie Peacock, Sir Stephen Houghton, Chief Executive of Barnsley Council Sarah Norman, Oliver Coppard   Mayor of South Yorkshire, the Mayor of Barnsley and representatives from Sheffield, Rotherham and Doncaster Councils also attended as well as a number of other significant people within our community. We re grateful for their support and never take this for granted.  

The 4 Christmas Concerts featured around 40 different pieces and showcased all 7 of our choirs aged 4-24 years old. Performances were of a high standard, and the volunteer team worked tirelessly to ensure that all performers were safe and had a really positive experience. It is symptomatic of the ethos at BYC that even our 4-year-olds in our Junior Choirs performed on stage with very high quality sound equipment and engineering facilitated by Dr. Al McNichol and were backed by a 9-piece professional band. They deserve the very best and the same quality of experience that our Senior Choir enjoys. As expected, they performed with skill and confidence and without hesitancy or drama to sell out audiences. A joy to behold!  

The final  Unplugged  Charity Concert that featured the Senior Choir raised important funds for St. Mary s Church and their work in the local community to support the most vulnerable. The choir sang at a really high level and 20 pieces, the majority of which were a cappella, contained some really challenging but exciting repertoire that audience members enjoyed. This concert began 4 years ago as a  one-off  charity concert, but the feedback has been so positive that we have programmed this every year since. Indeed, we welcomed audience members from across England with some travelling considerable distances to attend.  

Late in December BYC was contacted by Barnsley Council and asked to perform a carol that had been uncovered by the team at Barnsley Museums.  Christmas Eve  was a piece written by local composer, Arthur Godfrey and the story of the piece had gained national attention following a recording that was made by Dr. Tegwen Roberts, a member of the Museum team, being shared on Radio 4. The choir quickly assembled 32 singers at short notice and, with 24 hours to learn the piece, performed a live broadcast on BBC Radio 4 at 9.00am on Christmas Eve with excellent feedback from listeners. We re indebted to those members and musicians who worked so hard to make this happen and sacrificed important family Christmas time at such a busy time for the choir, and to the team at the museum team for its support. More information about the piece can be found on the Barnsley Museums website and social media and a video recording of this special piece are available on Youtube as well as social media.

The 60 strong volunteer team continues to evolve and make seemingly impossible tasks possible under the impressive leadership of Debbie Hobson. The Trustees and the wider Leadership Team work really hard in the engine room to make things happen. 42 of our adult volunteers and musicians are now fully accredited Youth Mental Health First Aiders following an intense 2-day course delivered by the brilliant Chris Madden. We are so grateful for his wonderful support of BYC. We are also investing in more first aid courses and asking that as many volunteers as possible become fully qualified chaperones. Currently around half of our volunteers have this accreditation, but all have full DBS checks and have had 1 to 1 safeguarding training with our excellent Safeguarding Lead, Nicola Ellel. We are blessed to have such a fantastic team that work selflessly, unpaid, to provide opportunities for our children and ensure that they are safe. Our registrars have really developed in this last year, taking real ownership of their choirs and are working much more closely with Musical Directors to ensure that things run effectively.  

Karen Davis was selected from a field of 5000 people to become a Kings Coronation Champion because of the extraordinary work she does as a Trustee and General Secretary of the choir which was fitting recognition for her tireless work. The choir is large and relies on excellent systems and processes, and Karen is at the heart of this work, ensuring that we are compliant and efficient in terms of communication and administration across the choirs. She, alongside the Trustee and Leadership Team members, devotes a huge amount of time to support the smooth running of the organisation in a voluntary capacity. Beyond Karen we have the evergreen and ever industrious Ann Wroe at the helm in her role as President and Chair of Trustees. Her measured guidance and extraordinary support of the choir is relentless and we owe so much to her stewardship of this organisation.  

We continue to invest in young people with singers such as Charlotte Bentley, Lucy Towers, Beth Pearce, Tom Masters, Rosie Masters, Gorgey Bennett, Livi Bloomer, Leah Saxton taking on important leadership roles in our volunteer and music teams. They are having such a positive impact and the future of the choir is in safe hands. We have new section leaders and mentors for the choir, including section leaders for the Intermediate Choir as well as Senior Choir.

Some of the greatest moments are not perhaps ones that would gain attention on a website or social media. Seeing new members as young as 4 years old gain confidence, develop close friendships and become more self-assured is always wonderful to see, as are the moments when vulnerable children with additional needs and families facing hardship realise that BYC is here for them and is a safe and supportive place to be. BYC is accessible and we will do everything we can to provide the best for all children, irrespective of their backgrounds and circumstances.  

A difficult decision has been reached to not take part in the 2024 World Choir Games in New Zealand due to significant escalating costs that have emerged. It is a decision that has not been taken lightly but is in the best interests of the choir, our families and supporters. A significant number of our members come from disadvantaged backgrounds with 1 in 3 children now officially living in poverty in Barnsley; a sad and lamentable statistic. These unforeseen additional costs that came to light would have placed such a pressure on the choir, families and supporters and we felt that we needed to make an early decision and protect all stakeholders. Instead, we will look to take our young people to South Africa in October 2024 for a 9-day tour which will include working with outstanding choirs in Durban, Drakensberg, Johannesburg and Pretoria and a cultural experience that will be truly life-changing for our young people. Whilst this trip will be cheaper, it still provides an acute fundraising challenge and we hope that our supporters will get behind the choir and make this possible. We are busy organising workshops, rehearsals and concerts with world class choirs and leaders in South Africa and we know that our young people will have a life-changing experience. Parents, members and supporters have been supportive of the decision not to take part and we re grateful for their understanding and unwavering support.  

In September we auditioned around 140 children and young people who were keen to be selected for the trip to South Africa tour from the Senior and Intermediate Choirs. The standard was incredibly high, and the team had to make some really difficult decisions about who should be selected. What was particularly pleasing to see was the quality of younger singers who had come through the BYC system from an early age.  

Their technique and skill were clear to see and led to some incredibly difficult discussions around who should be involved. We have selected an initial squad and will define roles in late January / early February 2024 in terms of travelling members and reserve members. We held our first  South Africa  tour weekend rehearsal in October and the learning that took place was really impressive, with such a fabulous level of focus and concentration from members. There was a lot of joy too!  

2024 will provide exciting new opportunities for members, including visiting experts from across the world and really interesting events and projects. In February 2024 we also welcome the outstanding Soprano Charlotte Mobbs from the Harry Christopher s legendary group  The Sixteen  who will work with our Intermediate and Senior Choirs. We have also been fortunate to secure a full weekend working with world famous conductor, Harry Christophers and 8 members of  The Sixteen  here in Barnsley for 50 of our most talented young singers. More details will be released soon about this project. In May 2024 we welcome Claire Herzog from the exceptional Missouri State University Chorale in the USA. Claire will coach and also work with our young people in a series of masterclasses. People will also be able to listen to this fantastic Soprano in an informal concert too   more details to come!  

We are excited to be welcoming Dr. Beverly Shangkuan-Cheng from the Philippines and Primo  Ker tanj from Slovenia as guest conductors in June 2024. Both of these conductors represent some of the finest choral leadership in the world, and it is such a privilege to welcome them to Barnsley to work with our young people. They will work with us on new music, provide workshops, rehearse with us and finally lead our choirs in concerts. What a truly amazing opportunity, and one of many that this season holds for us all. We have also had contact from a number of significant international choirs about visiting Barnsley at that time, but until we have confirmed arrangements it would be wrong to include this in the report.  

In July 2024 we hope to stage a large festival in Barnsley which will celebrate the last 15 years of BYC. Ambitious plans include a School s festival at the Metrodome Arena featuring around 1500 Primary School Children and 3 large concerts. After speaking to schools, they have provisionally signed up over 3500 children to the event which is causing us a significant logistical headache! An additional massed choir concert by the BYC family, including our sister organisation Barnsley Singers adult community choir will also take place, as will a celebration party where all performers will be able to attend. Whilst this festival will be dependent on us gaining funding, we are highly optimistic that it will take place and we re excited about the prospect of putting all of our singers together for the first time in many years.  

This review provides some headline information, but there is so much more activity taking place that we couldn t possibly capture in this short summary, and I hope that stakeholders will forgive any omissions that I have made. It is certainly no reflection on the level of importance of other events and work taking place; it s about trying to make this review succinct, although I recognise that it still may feel quite detailed and long. We re enormously proud of the development of the organisation; the interests of children and young people remain at the heart of every decision that is made and every conversation that takes place and Barnsley Youth Choir still feels like a close family, despite its size.  

Finally, I d like to thank the community for its support. As a not-for-profit charity led by volunteers and not publicly funded, we rely on the support from the community to make this work possible and we are incredibly grateful for all that sponsors, partners, patrons and supporters do to support the organisation. In 2009 no one could have predicted the path that this choir would take, but the endeavour of leaders, volunteers, members and their parents and the support of kind and generous supporters who recognise our mission to support the community, has developed this into an organisation that I hope many will take pride from. It is a privilege to serve and to work alongside such a superb team of positive, selfless and supportive people, and we look forward to some really exciting experiences in 2024.  

Mat Wright MBE

Artistic Director BYC


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